A Sort of Introduction, Part Three: Worldview

In the inaugural post to this blog, i shared some basic elements of my perspective that are kind of unusual and which justify my calling this sucker Alternate Takes.  After all, if one is going to trumpet abroad that one is poised to make “oblique contributions to the cultural roar,” one needs to establish that one is indeed positioned at an oblique angle from what is considered normal—or one must be prepared to face the wrath of one’s reading public.

Then, in the second post, i presented a brief but insanely perspicacious overview of my philosophy of education.

In this, our third post, we’re going to talk briefly about the idea of worldview.  And following that, in the next few posts, we’ll be summarily reviewing the following:

  • Philosophy, Logic and Epistemology
  • Theology and the Kingdom of God
  • Discipleship and the Christian Life
  • The Church and Christian Community
  • Society and Culture
  • Creative Expression:  Rhetorical Dialogues, Poetry, Short Fiction, Experimental and Whimsical Pieces

One doesn’t wish to bowl the Good Reader over with too much material at once, attention spans being what they are these days, for which reason i feel it’s best to tackle one item at a time.

Worldview

In addressing education in the last post, i said, “This is what i do, and i can be pretty opinionated about it.”  Well, the same can be said of worldview.  The idea of ‘worldview’ is at the very heart of what we do at Foundations Collegium.  However, i find that there’s a great deal of murky thinking on the subject of worldview, what it is, how to teach worldview, etc.

Some aspects of my perspective on worldview:

(1) What is worldview?
Worldview, simply put, is a person’s overall understanding and experience of reality.  It’s your basic, underlying sense of the way things are.  It’s what you see when you look around you: not so much the physical items you see, but the way you place them, define, them, connect them together.  It’s your view of the world.  It’s the movie that you’re starring in, it’s how you think about the movie sets and the other characters, and it’s what you understand that movie to be about.

Your worldview will have some aspects that would be labeled ‘religious,’ and some aspects that would be labeled ‘psychological,’ and some aspects that would appear to relate to the society and culture you are immersed in, and the political and economic system in which you are a participant.  It’ll have implications that a scientist would be interested in, and implications that a philosopher would be interested in.  Your worldview will touch on matters related to your career, your relationships, your leisure time, your family life, your commitments, your sense of what is right and wrong, what is important, what is central.

But ultimately, it is not reducible to any of these.  Your worldview forms one immense, unbroken field of experience and interpretation, and we must beware of trying to stuff it into pre-existing templates.  In doing so, we might lose the texture of what you actually believe.

(2) Some ways the idea of worldview has been presented.
The idea of worldview has been around, in varying forms, since the 1700’s.  It has been applied in philosophy, theology, and the natural and social sciences.

When you encounter the term ‘worldview’ today, it is often used in reference to a basic religious perspective.  Such ‘worldviews’ as theism, deism, pantheism, polytheism, and atheism are sometimes cited as examples.  Other people place great emphasis on social realities, politics, economics and public policy as the hub around which worldview turns.   They might speak of the ‘conservative’ worldview, the ‘liberal’ worldview, or the ‘Marxist’ worldview.

These kinds of discussions can be helpful in sifting our understanding of what’s what in the realm of ideas, but they are not ultimately what i mean by the term worldview.

(3) What worldview is not (according to me).
It is important to understand that a ‘worldview’ is not a catechism; it’s not a series of answers to a list of questions.  Anyone can be taught to master such a list of statements, but this does not really tell you what the person’s basic experience of the world is all about.  The answers that i have been taught to memorize by my religious or social group may not really reflect the more primal sense i have of how reality works, a sense that may only come out under stress or when i find myself in unfamiliar circumstances.  The best way to find out a person’s real worldview is to catch him off-guard.  Just let him talk for a while, without giving any indication that you’re probing for his architectural perspective on reality.  You’re likely to come up with some good material, and it won’t be doctored up to conform to perceived expectations.

Note: If you’ve been taught that a ‘worldview’ is, in fact, just such a directory of answers to a range of questions about various aspects of reality, all is not lost.  See ‘conceptual framework,’ below.

(4) Worldviews and conceptual frameworks.
At this point, perhaps we should nuance our use of terms a bit.  If we don’t, there’s going to be a crippling ambiguity haunting the very heart of the discussion.

Let’s distinguish between your worldview—the big picture, your total experience of reality—and your conceptual framework—the structural matrix that gives shape and support to your worldview.  If your worldview is the vast, hulking mass of all your experience, belief, feeling and perception, then your conceptual framework would be the skeleton that supports that immense body of experience.

A conceptual framework is much more specific, more crystallized, than is a worldview.  It is what it sounds like: a framework of ideas.  It is the system of structural beams that enable the building to hold together.

In other words, it’s a lot easier to get at someone’s conceptual framework than it is to get at his worldview.  If you are dead-set on learning about someone’s perspective on life/the universe by asking a series of questions, what you’ll come up with is the person’s conceptual framework.  And of course, what most people mean when they use the term ‘worldview’ is actually what i mean by ‘conceptual framework.’

Just as a matter of convenience, i’ll often use the term worldview in both senses, because everybody else does.  But it’s a distinction that’s worth making and keeping in mind when engaging this discussion.

(5) Individual and cultural worldviews.
Let’s further nuance the discussion.  Presentations of worldview are often bedeviled by a failure to distinguish between cultural worldviews (perspectives that a whole community may share in common) and individual worldviews (Jack Smith’s unique perspective on things, much of which may not be shared by other individuals in the culture of which he is a part).

The identification of sweeping, monolithic ‘worldviews’ has its usefulness.  However, it can also lead to misunderstanding if we insist on saying that all individuals must be able to fit into one of these large cultural templates.

I say that these discussions are ‘bedeviled’ by such an error, because in identifying large, pan-cultural frameworks of belief, the diversity of individual worldviews is lost.  As convenient as it may be to sketch out mega-worldviews and try to herd millions of people into them, the reality is that such a setup is going to do great violence to what real individuals actually believe.

(6) What is ‘the Christian worldview’…?
Oh dear.  This is a whole blog post all by itself.

No: a series of posts.  No: a book.  No: a multi-volume set.

Oceans of ink have been invested in the attempt to work out precisely what ‘the Christian worldview’ involves.  Often, these efforts unfortunately reflect the theological eccentricities of a certain religious community, rather than what C.S. Lewis called ‘mere Christianity.’  Instead of trying to tackle the subject in one or two paragraphs, a laughably impossible task, i’ll just make a couple of observations.

1.  When we use the term ‘the Christian worldview,’ i wonder whether we’re being descriptive or prescriptive?  In other words, i wonder whether we’re reporting what large numbers of Christians do in fact believe, or what we feel that they should believe, if they had a clear understanding of God’s perspective on His own creation?  It makes a difference.

If we’re speaking descriptively, then the plain fact is that there’s no one ‘Christian worldview.’  There’s a whole range of them, and they share some defining features in common, but they may take different directions in addressing social issues, political realities, and even the nature of the Christian life and the Kingdom of God.

And if we’re speaking prescriptively, we’d sure better know what we’re talking about, because we’re arrogating to ourselves a heavy weight of authority.

2.  Related to the first point: When some people speak of ‘the Christian worldview,’ what they really mean is Conservatism, political and otherwise, and i find this a wee bit troubling.  Please understand: my own political stance would almost certainly be identified as ‘conservative’ by most people.  What troubles me is the question of whether the cart or the horse should be in front.  If a person seems way more interested in engaging political issues then in talking about God and His world, His Kingdom, what He is doing in the lives of people, i begin to feel a bit uneasy.  It’s not an either-or; but one’s political convictions need to take a back seat and the focus needs to be on God—overwhelmingly.

That’s enough on worldview for now.  This is an area of discourse that’s going to come up a lot in this blog, so i’ve put some effort into limning out how i understand ‘worldview’ and how it connects to some other things.

Until next time, don’t eat any wooden nickels.  The fact that such advice is even needed is a frightening index of the state into which our society has fallen.

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